We all know instinctively that it's unfair for Iowa and New Hampshire to have such disproportionate clout in choosing the presidential nominees. Iowa and New Hampshire are small states that don't necessarily mirror the rest of the country's politics. So why should they get so much power to choose our potential leader?
An essay in today's New York Times makes the problem more jarring by pointing out exactly how Iowa and New Hampshire don't mirror the rest of the country at a time when most of us live in cities.
Above all, Iowa and New Hampshire lack a single big city, at a time when large metropolitan areas are crucial to lifting economic growth. Big metro areas are where big ideas most often take shape and great new companies are most often born. The country’s 25 largest areas are responsible for 52 percent of the country’s economic output, according to the Brookings Institution, and are home to 42 percent of the population.
Yet metro areas are also struggling with major problems. The quality of schools is spotty. Commutes last longer than ever. Roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems are aging.
You don’t hear much about these issues in the first year of a presidential campaign, though. No wonder. Iowa, New Hampshire and the next two states to vote, Nevada and South Carolina, do not have a single city among the country’s 25 largest. Las Vegas, the 30th-largest metro area, and the Boston suburbs that stretch into New Hampshire are the closest these states come.
So the presidential calendar becomes another cause of what Edward Glaeser, a conservative-leaning Harvard economist, calls our “anti-urban policy bias.” Suburbs and rural areas receive vastly more per-person federal largess than cities. One big reason, of course, is the structure of the Senate: the 12 million residents of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina have eight United States senators among them, while the 81 million residents of California, New York and Texas have only six.
Bruce Katz, a Brookings vice president and veteran of Democratic administrations, points out that the world’s other economic powers take their cities more seriously. China, in particular, has made urban planning a central part of its economic strategy.
“The United States stands apart as an anti-urban nation in an urbanizing world,” Mr. Katz told me. “Our political tilt toward small states and small towns, in presidential campaigns and the governing that follows, is not only a quaint relic of an earlier era but a dangerous distraction at a time when national prosperity depends on urban prosperity.”